Andy Beckett and Jonathan Freedland identify the challenges that Keir Starmer and his party face in reaching out to the “red wall” lost voters (Can Labour rebuild its red wall without losing its cities?, 12 September; Boris Johnson is trashing Britain’s reputation. Labour cannot stand by, 11 September).
Yes, there are common themes that can bring the fragile coalition of Labour voters together, such as public services and a fairer economy, but failure to address the issue of our future relationship with the EU would be a huge mistake.
Starmer has been tactically astute to stand back and let Tory MPs and peers voice opposition to the internal market bill, but this position is not sustainable in the long term. The bill is in effect an enabling act to dismantle the many EU standards and protections that still benefit UK consumers and workers, and will most likely adversely impact ex-Labour voters in semi-skilled or unskilled jobs.
It is on this issue, and continued access to the single market, that Labour has to articulate clearly without equivocation. It may bring back these voters and revive our declining vote in Scotland, while ensuring that we do not further alienate pro-EU voters. This could be the route to No 10 for Starmer.
• Andy Beckett is right. Labour must avoid making the mistakes of Bill Clinton and Tony Blair and leaving the economic field to the Conservatives who will always have the edge on cultural issues, especially with the red wall population. The old Labour coalition of trade unions and liberal intellectuals is as dead as the British empire, and can never be reborn. Labour should instead focus on economic policies and reforms that will appeal to a younger and better-educated electorate, beginning with the private market in homes.
Prof Roger Brown
• I take two issues with Andy Beckett’s article. First, and longest standing, can we put a stop to the use of “red wall” to refer to previously Labour-held constituencies? It was always patronising and is now a tired cliche notable for preventing rather than enabling insight. Second, Beckett argues that the way to unite the differing strands of potential Labour support (old and new) is to acknowledge their common ground. “They want more cheap housing, properly funded public services and a fairer economy,” he says. The truth is that voters who switched away from Labour have voted consistently for a government offering the opposite since 2010.
• What Andy Beckett identifies is an old problem memorably expressed in George Orwell’s writings. He wrote about a bus conductor contentiously speaking of a man wearing shorts and sandals who boarded his bus as being a Labour party member. A man who, by his appearance and manner, alienated this member of the proletariat. What the Labour leadership then realised was that despite the apparent differences between the metropolitan elite and the working classes, what united them was a belief in Labour’s core values of fairness and equality. Today’s leadership should recognise this.
• Andy Beckett reports on the depressing findings of a survey of red wall voters and their views, one of which is that they hate “urban liberals”. As a lifelong urban liberal, can I say that I feel exactly the same way about working-class Tories?